What are Humans For? Community and Vocation
If you got baptised in the first centuries of the church, you would have a short dialogue with the minister. He’d ask you a series of questions: “Do you believe in God?” and you would say, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.’ ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ? And you would I say I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.’ And then, ‘Do you believe in the Holy Spirit.’ And you would say, ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit.’ I believe in God the creator, in Jesus the Saviour and the Holy Spirit who makes us holy and hopeful in community. That’s the common faith that all baptised Christians share.
The apostles’ creed wasn’t written by the apostles – those first followers of Jesus. It does repeat what the Apostles’ teach about God. Think of the Apostles’ Creed as Coles notes on the Bible. It doesn’t replace the whole long story you get in the Genesis to Revelation narrative of Scripture. It summarizes and compresses to the bare minimum, gives us the main episodes of the story so we get the plot right. It names the essential features of the faith Christian practice.
In baptism people own this faith as their own – we don’t say ‘we’ believe, we say ‘I’ believe.’ That’s another way of saying, ‘where it comes to how I’ll live my life, commit to causes and direct my energy and find my way, I’m all in with the Trinity. The faith that the church confesses, is now my faith.’
Saying ‘I believe’ is sort of like saying, ‘I do at a wedding.’ It changes your life, redirects your path, indicates a new relationship. You can not leave as you came after saying, ‘I do,’ or ‘I believe in.’ Creed implies conduct. At baptism, ‘I believe’ means I push my chips to the center of the table and go all in with God. We aren’t checking boxes when we say the creed, we committing to a way of life that reflects what we confess.
This morning we begin with the first line of the creed: ‘I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth’ (say it together). That’s huge! That’s a line full of meaning and full of relevance for the time and place in which we live. It’s God’s world – not our world. God called the world into being out of nothing and continues to uphold the world. We live in the world that belongs to God. We are responsible to God for what we do in and to the world God has made. And please, please: confessing that God created the world does not mean we interpret the book of Genesis as a documentary account – seven literal days. Remember this book is written thousands of years before the rise of modern science. Genesis and the creed want to teach us that the world didn’t just occur – time, chance and energy. God calls creation into being. We fashion things. God creates things – calls things that aren’t into existence.
That’s amazing. That’s great news. God in an act of overflowing love, chose not to be God without a world, without us. God is so gracious that rather than just be God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – on God’s own, a world is called into existence. God takes great joy in giving life and in loving.
God did not have to do this. God chose to do it because, well that’s the way God is. In an act of love God makes someone, something, other than God and loves us and the world God has made. God does not begrudge that something other than God exists. God does not think of us as rivals – God creates and is absolutely delighted at it. It is good, it is really good.
Creation is an act of love. So, when we all think of God, when we listen to people who imagine that God is stingy, self-absorbed or indifferent; when bigots suggest that God just loves some (like us) and not others in other parts of the world. Remember God made the whole world – heaven and earth, all things visible and invisible – in an act of reckless generosity with its variety of plants and trees and landscapes and people and stars and planets. The universe – full of beauty, way beyond utility, sheer extravagance of colour and sound and shape – all of it is from God and loved by God all the time.
And as people of God, we are called to love the world, all of creation. It is not ours to do with as we will. It is God’s world and we are stewards of creation – responsible to God for the way we engage and use the world God has set us in. It is a shared world of glory and beauty. We are responsible to those yet to come for the legacy we leave. I think you can imagine the implications for living lightly on the earth and creation care. That is a way we love God and other people. When we care for the world God loves, we love not only the world but the God who made it. When we care for the shared world, we love not only the world but the people who live in and on it.
Today, the Christian sabbath, is observed, according to the Bible, as a day of rest. We rest because God did on the last day of creation. The rest from our labours reminds us to look up and around at the world God has made; and give thanks. God saw on that last day of creation that it was good, very good, just outstanding. We do the same when we rest. However, hard we work, creation is not our achievement. Life itself is sheer gift from God. ‘It is he that made us and not we ourselves.’ ‘And so we give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.’ We contemplate the beauty of God’s world and, as John Calvin said, ‘we are ravished in astonishment’ at the glory and grandeur of God’s creation. Make yourself still to hear and to see a sunlit world, a starlit night, and worship the Creator.
Wendall Berry, the contemporary American poet writes:
To sit and look at light-filled leaves
May let us see, or seem to see,
Far backward as through clearer eyes
To what unsighted hope believes:
The blessed conviviality
That sang creation’s seventh sunrise.
God created the world including people. There are two accounts of the creation of book of Genesis. The first is in chapter one: ‘God created humans in his image, in the image of God created he them, male and female he created them.’
Few passages in the bible generate discussion like this one. An image is a reflection, a mirror of the original. The question is ‘what about God do humans image or mirror?’ What of God is reflected in humans? Through the history of the church smart people puzzle this out. Some say it is our ability to reason, others say it is our dominion over creation – like God we get called to care for creation in a way that humans can. Some say it is our imagination – our ability to forecast a future, to plan a way the world can be and move toward it.
I think if we read slowly and deliberately our Genesis passage, we get something else: Listen, carefully – ‘In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.’ Did you hear that? The image of God in humans is male-female. A single person doesn’t mirror God, humans together do that. You know the saying, ‘no man is an island.’ Genesis confirms it. We are most fully human when we live in relationship, we are only human when we are co-human.
Human beings, like God who is a society of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – most mirror God when we live together in society. We can’t be human without humans. It is not weakness to need the company of other people. Church is a fellowship, where we are together with each other for worship and fellowship for the sake of outreach to the world. God has made us to need one another and to need God. ‘Our relationship to God and each other is not added onto our existence, humans are created in such a way that our very existence is intended to be our relationship to each other and God’ (Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God, 124).
Funny how culturally opposite this can be. I still frequently hear about how some person is self-made. We mistakenly believe that an ‘autonomous’ self-made man or woman is a grown up, a whole person and that we should aim for that. It turns out that Genesis offers another anthropology – we are made for fellowship, we are most human when we are co-human. I think this is fantastic news in an age of autonomy, when many of our neighbours are alienated and alone because of trying to be self-sufficient. We cut against the grain of creation when we go it alone. What the church has to offer, as a community, is a place to fellowship, a place to realize your humanity in meaningful relationship with others for the sake of the world.
Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God, spent his life in fellowship – with God and his neighbours. His whole life was about going to the edge of society and gathering up the left out and the left over. He brought lepers back into their humanity, by ridding them of disease, but even more so by restoring them to community. He took ostracized Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree and back into loving relationships with estranged neighbours. Jesus shows us what it means to be co-human; he frees us from our misguided aspirations to be independent and self-sufficient so we become fully co-human.
If you are here today and are feeling alienated, estranged, parched for life; that’s the grace of discontent. You are welcome today. You are welcomed into the society Jesus is building called church. Baptized into this community, you can come into the life God has for you in fellowship with others. We are not autonomous, self-made people. That’s a lie that sucks the life from us and leaves us lonely and alone; living on fumes. We find ourselves by being found in fellowship with others and with God. We become human in the company of others, who are on the same journey.
The second account of the creation of people is chapter two in Genesis. It is a little different that the ‘image of God’ story from chapter 1. This second narrative counter-balances the first. In Genesis two, one of the reasons God creates people is ‘there was no one to till the ground.’ In other words, a gardener is needed and so God makes people. That’s like someone saying, ‘we had kids because we needed help on the farm.’
Do you get this? We could be tempted to think the world is all about us. It is the sixth day, just before God’s rest, that people are made, in Genesis one. We could imagine, and we do, that the world is all about us, humans. People are the only thing that matters in the world. In Genesis two we are de-centered. It’s the world and its watering and tilling that motivate God to make people. We are caretakers of the world. Wow!
And just in case we don’t get the point listen to this: ‘God formed man from the dust of the earth.’ We can’t quite hear the play on words. What it says is this: God made earthlings from the earth. Adam from the Adama. God breathed into an earth formed being and got earthenware – people.
Our connection to the world is intimate. We are not above creation, from somewhere else, we are people of the earth. The earth is our home. We have an interdependence with soil, without which we cannot live. The good of our world and our good are linked in this story. Our vocation as human beings means taking care of the ground, tilling the soil and keeping the garden of the world God has given us. We work on earth which is our home. We are animated by God to live in the world as responsible agents, keepers entrusted with the world of sowing and reaping, springtime and harvest.
I wonder what harm is done in our world when we imagine that we are somehow above it or disconnected from it. I remember living in cottage country in the north of Ontario. You could see the difference between week-end campers and seasonal residents in the way they treated the world. Visitors who have no stake in the place, can be cavalier about how they treat it. Cans and garbage everywhere for someone else to clean up. People who are residents have connection to the land, respect it, occupy it with care, say I am from here; they have a sense of shared space. They plant gardens and patiently care for them in their cycles of planting and growth and harvest.
A final thought. Did you notice that God breathes life in a person formed from dust? And yet we get alienated from the land. Abuse creation. Get self-centered. We defy care for the garden. We defy our Creator and it knocks the breath out of us.
In the New Testament, after Jesus is risen from the dead, in John’s Gospel; he does a weird thing. He goes to his failed disciples, who are cowering in an upper room, and breathes on them. He says, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’ It’s Genesis all over again. Jesus new life is our new life. He enlivens us by his creative breath, and says: ‘as the Father sent me, so send I you.’ In other words, go and garden – care for creatures, soil and people and the whole wide world. God loves them all; God cares for them all. God delights in them all. If you want to be a human, do the same thing for the love of God! And if you do, you will find that God loves, cares for and delights in you, an image bearer. Thanks be to God. Amen.